Safer Roads Through Technology & Innovation

Safer Roads Through Technology

There is little doubt that Colorado needs to remain focused on roadway safety after having 605 fatalities in 2016. The problem is not limited to passenger vehicles, as there were 125 fatalities among motorcyclists, 94 among pedestrians and 16 among bicyclists. These numbers represent over a 10% jump from the previous year, and the problem has received attention by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the State Highway Patrol and other such agencies.

We are still a few years away from truly beginning to see significant results from the innovation and technology initiatives discussed in the series. We are witnessing strong investment both publicly and privately toward automated vehicle technologies and the ability to transfer this data in real-time. Many traditional auto manufacturers are designing and testing new vehicles with technological advancements. Even organizations with limited automotive backgrounds are entering this development, e.g., Google and Apple. Ultimately, the vehicles and systems in place a decade from now will be the result of a fusion of international efforts across the spectrum and contributions from national governments, state governments, hardware and software companies and other stakeholders.

Critical Factors According to the Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation has outlined a number of critical factors that will need to be addressed in order to create safer roads through technology and innovation.

  • Regulatory involvement: Regulators must assist with reaching roadway safety goals by setting standards, implementing mandates, and allocating responsibility for critical functions such as registration, licensing, insurance and much more.
  • Public & private efforts: To realize these goals, we must continue to create public and private development, particularly with needed financial resources.
  • Competitive markets: For development, there is a clear need for a competitive marketplace. Regulators and legislators have the largest initial burden here to enact the standards and laws, thus creating the framework for these private companies in the market to work within.
  • A degree of uniformity: Establishing some standards among equipment, connectivity, and platforms will be important; otherwise, we will not have the true interoperability necessary.

Opposition & Possible Drawbacks

The discussion on technology today is usually followed by certain fears associated with it, mainly economic and security issues. These two fears are relevant with regard to technology, cars and transportation systems.

Potential job losses: A recent Goldman Sachs report is bad news for many transportation workers. According to the study, once driverless vehicles become more common, those who drive for a living in the U.S. may experience a wave of cuts — close to 300,000 per year. In 2014, roughly 4 million driver jobs existed, of which 3.1 million were in commercial trucking. Uber has recently begun their freight option under leadership from a boss who is promoting it as a driverless solution. Ford’s new CEO is a major proponent of self-driving cars. The Teamsters union is lobbying congress to exclude commercial trucking from the self-driving agenda. James Hoffa, the union President, has been speaking out to prevent job loss and the destruction of the livelihood of many truck drivers.

Additional distractions & false sense of security: Many drivers who have adopted the “blind-spot” monitoring systems in their vehicles have admitted that they conduct lane changes now relying only on the system. The thought is that as driver’s become more accustomed to these systems, they will ignore the potential limitations and engage in more risky behavior than they did before the use of these systems. And if the drivers aren’t relying on them, they are turning them off because they are annoying, but by turning them off, they lose the safety benefits of them. Each module of new technology typically has its own visual and/or audio warning signals that are both irritating and potentially distracting. One report suggested that almost 50% of those with lane changing detectors turn them off while driving. Across the U.S. we see states implementing significant legislation to combat “distracted driving,” largely in response to mobile device usage by drivers. Many feel that all of these new detectors and signals are going to exacerbate the distracted driving situation.

Security Concerns

Internationally, we have continued to experience major electronic security breaches within our financial sector, retail, government, and others. Having a network that “connects” (in this case) vehicles creates tremendous exposure. Security of the autonomous vehicle network(s) will be paramount, otherwise, the public will be reluctant to use the system. Unauthorized access could create major vulnerabilities, particularly if someone gains remote access and control. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is leading the way in cyber security measures in this area, suggesting a multi-layered defense strategy. Manufacturers, including Tesla, GM, & Chrysler, are offering monetary awards during their testing to uncover flaws in security.

Emerging New Features

There are other features that are currently being designed and tested, that will ultimately make our roads safer.

  • Red light warnings that result from vehicles interacting with traffic signals, particularly to measure speed and distance to warn a driver.
  • Speed limit zone and construction zone monitoring and alerts for drivers.
  • Pedestrian monitoring and alerts to warn drivers of pedestrian crossing activity for an upcoming crosswalk.
  • Navigational alert that measures the vehicle’s speed and steering when encountering curves in the road.

Progress relating to smart-cars, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication will continue, as will the challenges. The potential reduction in injuries, fatalities, and property damage that these innovations are capable of is tremendous. With such a broad scope of variables involved, moving forward will require a cooperative effort from manufacturers, regulators, legislators, federal, state and local governments, and many others.

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